ZIMBABWE: UN agency turns on taps at shut university

The United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, is working to resurrect water and sanitation provision at Zimbabwe's oldest university, Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Stan Mudenge has announced. The University of Zimbabwe was shut indefinitely in February because of fears of a cholera outbreak arising from lack of clean water.

Mudenge told the House of Assembly on 13 May that eight of Zimbabwe's nine state-run higher education institutions - that had also closed following a crippling lecturer strike and lack of learning materials - were now open. The University of Zimbabwe was the only institution still not operational.

The provision of clean water and sanitation at the Harare-based institution is part of the new inclusive government's ambitious 100-day plan championed by former foes President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change leader who is now Prime Minister of the shattered Southern African country.

"The problem at the University of Zimbabwe is running water," Mudenga said. Neither the Zimbabwe National water Authourity nor the Harare City Council were able to provide clean water.

"Of the boreholes we dug at the university, six of them are dry and five are full of water but that water is mixed with sewage, it is contaminated water and it cannot be used for drinking," he said. "To open the university under such circumstances is actually irresponsible and would lead to a cholera outbreak or some other epidemic diseases."

Strapped for cash, the government approached Unicef which agreed to help and has been drilling six boreholes. Once running water was restored and sewerage systems unblocked, the university could open - within weeks, Mudenge promised.

Unicef's help is the first confirmed to an institution of higher learning since most agencies and donors withdrew from Zimbabwe during the height of an oppressive clampdown by Mugabe on all forms of democratic opposition to his rule.

The UN agency's effort to prevent further spread of the deadly cholera epidemic, that took hold in Zimbabwe last year, came as the Zimbabwe Red Cross announced the country was heading towards 100,000 infections. The preventable disease has already killed 4,283 people.

Fears of cholera prompted the new government make the provision of clean water at the University of Zimbabwe a priority in its 100-day plan, which started on 28 April.

Included on the higher education 'to do' list of the plan are to provide water and sanitation at the University of Zimbabwe, complete the National University of Science and Technology library, construct the Lupane State University administration, conduct a needs analysis and recruit staff.